The Stamford 2030 District, the collaborative initiative aimed at reducing the city’s energy and water consumption and transportation-related emissions by 50 percent by that future date, has made such significant strides toward achieving its goals that it is expanding its reach.
The district, which began life in 2014 as an initiative of The Business Council of Fairfield County, was originally focused on the fast-growing city’s downtown area. It has since expanded to include all of Stamford, and now includes more than 40 members and 100 buildings. All told, it covers more than 12 million square feet of primarily large office building space.
According to Program Manager Emily Gordon, “We’re one of the smallest cities to participate in the program. When we started, we were the smallest.”
Now totaling 20 districts nationwide, the nearest to Stamford is in Ithaca, New York. The 2030 Districts Network is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit group dedicated to establishing and maintaining a global network of communities “to catalyze transformation in the built environment and the role it plays in mitigating and adapting to climate change,” according to the organization.
The network includes more than 394 million square feet of commercial real estate whose owners have committed to working to achieve the Architecture 2030 Challenge for Planning goals to reduce resource use. Over 990 organizations have agreed to be part of the network, with more than 1,600 buildings committed.
Gordon said that additional specific data about what has been accomplished in Stamford is still being compiled for a report due in the spring, but that achieving the district’s goals appears to be on target.
After its first year, the district’s members performed achieved about 24 percent more efficiency than the national median. According to its last report in 2016, member buildings were collectively operating 21 percent better than the baseline, representing enough energy to power 2,467 homes for a year. District-wide energy consumption was estimated to be 7 percent lower than the identified district energy baseline.
Getting buy-in from building owners “depends on who you’re talking to,” she said. “Overall these issues are on people’s radar — they recognize the need for energy efficiency and sustainability, both from an environmental and an economic point of view.”
The economics of making a building “greener” can be an obstacle.
“Most people struggle with how to achieve those goals,” Gordon said, “especially when it comes to small- and mid-sized building owners. Most of them don’t know where to start, or they feel they don’t have the resources to make the necessary changes.”
“Larger companies have staffs to manage their buildings,” noted Joe McGee, vice president, public policy and programs at The Business Council of Fairfield County, which is based in Stamford. “Smaller buildings … don’t have a professional building manager on staff.
“It’s hard work — it really is — but it has to be done.”
Gordon noted that the organization has a number of tools and resources available on its website, including comparative analyses and case studies, as well as educational events and tech platforms that can help building owners coordinate with their utilities to upload data and to identify and address various issues.
There is also an ongoing effort to provide opportunities for building owners to visit others “to see how they’re doing it, to share best practices,” McGee said. “A lot of the buildings here are very similar because they were built around the same time period.”
Therein lies another potential problem.
“A lot of these buildings were constructed in the 1970s, under a standard that is very different than today,” he said. “Even metering can be a problem — a lot of times they’ll have just one meter in a multi-tenant building.
“Then there’s lighting,” McGee continued. “Even the building we’re in doesn’t have the most efficient lighting, or you have an air conditioner that’s been built into the wall. The transformation of an older building that was constructed in the 1970s can be a big challenge.”
But the rewards can be big, too, he said. Not only are utility incentives available for those making their buildings more efficient and sustainable, “but people, tenants, are increasingly asking about it,” McGee said. “And younger people today want to work for a company that looks like it’s cutting edge. This is one way of achieving that.”
Gordon added that health advantages are another consideration. “Poor ventilation and lighting can negatively affect productivity,” she noted.
While single-family building owners are not part of Stamford 2030’s mandate, the group is increasing its outreach to apartment building owners, Gordon said.
The Stamford group is also expanding its focus on resiliency. “We’re working with the city on some pilot projects to try to figure out how you measure resiliency,” she said. “We know how to measure energy and water usage, but how do you measure and rate resiliency? That’s one of the open questions that needs to be addressed.”